Issue 20

Issue XX: Editor’s Note

The 20th issue of Open Axis explores popular culture. We question how popular culture is framed, why it is both dynamic and malleable. Almost everything that we do – friends we make, conversations that we have, places that we travel to, media that we consume – is predicated upon the prevailing cultural trends around us. This issue will attempt to understand how culture is framed and made to interact with society, politics, and technology. Further, this issue will also encompass our designated theme to respond to the biggest headline in the world right now. 

In the early hours of 24th February, the world woke up to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s declaration of war against Ukraine. Heroic tales of Ukrainian defiance began to be shared through social media. Meanwhile, diplomatic and geopolitical experts took over television panels and editorial pages. The world moved on almost in suspended disbelief, with a new war to discuss. In doom and in calm, Open Axis persists in analyzing the world around us.

Following our theme of popular culture, Reya Deya is in conversation with her mother and grandmother as they react to the newly released Gehraiyaan, and talk about on-screen sex, sexuality, and sensationalism. 

Continuing the conversation around intimacy, Maahira Jain and Lakshya Sharma interview Aastha Khanna, the first Intimacy Coordinator of India and intimacy director behind Gehraiyaan. In an insightful podcast, she talks about her journey and the importance of her work in today’s world. 

In a day and age where attention is few and fleeting, art and popular culture remains that which unites and creates. Shree Bhattacharyya explores whether originality is present in popular culture today, and how the act of plagiarism has taken on a new and confusing role.

With Ashoka University starting offline classes on campus again after two years, OpenAxis asks the Ashoka student body what they will miss about online classes.

In this issue, we also explore how the pandemic transformed how we occupy space around us, as Jaidev Pant writes about how the pandemic altered our relationship with the outdoors.

Maahira Jain writes about hybrid work culture in the pandemic brought well being and employee development to the forefront of organisational policies

Studying another aspect of popular culture, Biplob Kumar Das writes about how Hindu Nationalism is influencing popular culture in India since 2014. 

In a photo essay, acclaimed filmmaker and photojournalist Kalyan Verma journeys through the ancient rocks and rainforests of Southern India’s Western Ghat range to document the spectacular Macaques.

Lakshya Sharma explores the case of Chitra Ramakrishna, CEO of the National Stock Exchange, who got tricked by a Himalayan sage and writes about how people have faith in such self-proclaimed sages, but how blind faith can lead to catastrophic consequences for people.

Neelim Mahanta’s street art is recognised widely in Assam. In an interview with him, conducted by Biplob Kumar Das, he opens up about his work, his beginnings, and his thoughts on art and life. 

On the Russia Ukraine crisis, Saaransh Mishra, Research Associate in Observer Research Foundation, writes about what are the options that Ukraine has in responding to an invasion by their militarily superior Russia.

– Lakshya Sharma, Shree Bhattacharyya, Jaidev Pant, Maahira Jain, Rutuparna Deshpande, Reya Daya & Biplob Kumar Das

Illustrator of cover image: Rutuparna Deshpande

Issue 20

Copy & Paste: Originality and Plagiarism in Popular Culture

Artists are often inspired by life and take inspiration from creative people around them. James Joyce’s Ulysses and Margeret Atwood’s Penelopiad are based on Homer’s The Odyssey. Taylor Swift wrote Tolerate It after reading Daphne De Maurier’s Rebecca, and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by The Beatles was inspired by Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Whether in art, literature, or popular culture, there are elements of the past that amalgamate with the ideas of the present. 

Taking ideas from existing pieces of work and creating something new can be done through adaptation, sampling and spin-offs. An adaptation is when a play or a movie is based on a novel or short story. The film Burning, directed by Lee Chang-dong, is based on Haruki Murakami’s short story Barn Burning. Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay was inspired by The Magnificent Seven, which was based on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Sampling is when a portion of a sound recording is reused in another recording. The catchy instrumental in Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Aaja by Parvati Khan and Bappi Lahiri was inspired by T’es OK by Ottawan, and was later sampled in M.I.A.’s Jimmy. A spin-off is when a TV show, film, or any other popular entertainment focuses on a few characters or ideas from an already existing work. In 2022, the popular game Wordle inspired many spin-offs such as Nerdle, which had the same rules as the original but was slightly modified. Bollywood uses spin-offs as its “golden goose” and has produced an innumerable number of them, such as Naam Shabana and Bob Biswa. Through these mediums, one can see that it is indisputable that art is not stagnant, and popular culture runs on the creativity of the past. 

Popular culture is known for its “popularity”, and therefore, it’s no surprise that when something gains the attention of many, other artists instantly look towards it for inspiration. The media and art are meant to be provocative and evocative, and it is clear that art influences art. However, when influence merges with copying, the word plagiarism becomes operative. In March, Tiger Shroff was accused of plagiarism when his latest single Poori Gal Baat’s lyrics and style held a striking resemblance to K-pop star Kai’s Peaches. Shroff has stated that he appreciates Kai as an artist, however, people were quick to call him out for not giving due credit. In 2021, Olivia Rodrigo was accused of copying various artists when her debut album Sour garnered global success. She was blamed for plagiarising Taylor Swift and Paramore– even though her album cites credits to Taylor Swift and later, to members of Paramore too. Elvis Costello, while responding to claims that Rodrigo had borrowed from his track Pump It Up, stated, “It’s how rock and roll works. You take the broken pieces of another thrill and make a brand new toy. That’s what I did”. If everyone is making a brand new toy with existing work, where does originality lie? People are quick to judge whenever one piece of work remotely resembles another, and the question arises: are we imposing originality on popular culture?

The latest trend of TikTok (or reels) is one of the mediums where originality both flourishes and perishes. Various audios, dance moves, and jokes become “trends” that everyone on the platform copies. Some put their own twist on it, whereas some directly imitate. It is in this wildly popular phenomenon that the mark of originality and plagiarism gets even more confusing. Is it fair to “cancel” every TikTok that may resemble another? In January, “you’ve gotta put ME first” audio from the television show Empire became a viral trend on TikTok. Who owns this trend? Does it belong to the creators of the show, the creator of the meme, TikTok, or no one at all? Some may view this situation as a plagiarism or copyright issue. However, it also shows the inherent beauty in popular culture. Someone has taken a sample from an existing work and has created something new that has not only influenced many but has also made them laugh. 

The Beatles, Elvis Costello, Lee Chang-dong, Greta Gerwig, Ramesh Sippy are few among many who have taken inspiration and have created something that has lasted in time. It has made a mark, and perhaps years from now, someone might even see the everlasting impact of the trends on TikTok. In a day and age where attention is few and fleeting, art and popular culture remains that which unites and creates. So, perhaps, there is no need to impose originality on popular culture. However, it is important to note that this is in no way an argument for a lack of copyright protection or not safeguarding artist’s rights. Plagiarism is still extremely wrong and those who have worked hard and authentically should always be given credit for their artistic expression. Rather, this is a call for not being so harsh on those who create content that may resemble or be inspired by previous work. As long as the artists are respectful and acknowledging, they should be appreciated and not incessantly compared. The consumers of popular culture need to remember the nature of art is to influence and inspire – not stifle. 

Shree Bhattacharyya is a student of English literature and Media Studies at Ashoka University.

Picture Credits: Shree Bhattacharyya

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